Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! (ドウンタウンのガキの使いやあらへんで！！) is a popular Japanese variety show the name of which translates as “Downtown’s ‘This is no task for kids!!’”. It is hosted by the comedic duos known as Downtown and Cocorico along with comedian Hōsei Yamasaki and features a variety of skits, games, and other antics. Perhaps the most intense of these is the annual “no-laughing” batsu (punishment) game that the cast engages in to ring in the New Year. During these games, the hosts undergo a 24-hour “training” session for some job (such as spy, reporter, or hotel man) during which they are strictly forbidden to laugh. If they do laugh, they are immediately punished (usually with a swift whack to the posterior). However, the “training” that they receive is a series of skits and set-ups designed for the sole purpose of making them laugh. The winner is the one who receives the least number of punishments. Needless to say, the final tallies are all always in the triple digits.
While the show primarily provides wild and often unpredictable entertainment, it also gives us a mirror of sorts that shows us how things turn out when we try to stop sinning using our own willpower. Just as the hosts are told to stop laughing one day, we also are tempted to think that we can just decide to stop sinning. The problem is that our decision is to stop sinning, not to submit to God, which is at the heart of the matter. We cannot overcome sin except by God’s grace. Without resting in this grace we keep ourselves at the mercy of sin just as the hapless hosts are at the mercy of the pranks and skits they encounter. No matter how hard they try, they will inevitably break down and laugh. Similarly, we can fight temptation as hard as we want, but it will always win in the end if we don’t have God in the equation.
James sums up this dynamic by writing: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift your up.” (James 4:7-10) Submission to God comes first and foremost. When we humble ourselves before God, then and only then are we able to rely on His strength to resist the devil and temptation. When we think about what James means by “Let your laughter be turned to mourning…” we shouldn’t be lead to the conclusion that being humble before God means that we should never laugh or be joyful. Jesus presents what this humility is about in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. (Luke 18:9-14) The tax collector who “went down to his house justified” sounds a lot like James’ description of humbling ourselves. The key lies not in any particular emotional state, but in recognizing God as our savior, our justifier, rather than ourselves. “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”
So it is that when we trust in God rather than ourselves, we meet with better results in avoiding sin than the Gaki members do in their ill-fated attempts to avoid laughter (and the subsequent punishments).